Educators react to New Hanover County School’s move to Plan A

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WWAY) — The same day Governor Cooper announced school staff will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, New Hanover County voted to bring elementary school students back in-person full-time.

March 8 will be the first time in nearly 360 days students will have the option to attend in-person classes five days a week.

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The decision was almost a year in the making for New Hanover County’s Board of Education.

Students have learned in a sort of limbo the past few months, adapting along with educators to virtual learning and all of its accompanying challenges.

Nelson Beaulieu, Vice Chair of the Board of Education, said those were always the hardest emails to read. Night after night, he and other board members would sift through emails from parents watching their children struggle, and worrying they’ll be left behind.

“As a father, you know that pain of not being able to get your kid what they need,” said Beaulieu. “It is so frustrating and so scary to see them struggle. And that really weighed on my decision. And I know it did on all the board members.”

Beaulieu was one of five members to vote in favor of Plan A Wednesday night, after Governor Cooper’s announcement that teachers will have the option to get vaccinated starting February 24.

“There’s a lot of relief among many of our staff,” said Julie Varnum, a student support assistant superintendent with New Hanover County Schools. “We just… we don’t want to assume that everyone is relieved. Because it doesn’t solve concerns for everybody, but we’ve heard a great sigh of relief.”

One of the most common concerns still remains the ability to social distance within classrooms.

Of course, staff members with have the option to get the vaccine as well as other child care providers in North Carolina. Maryann Nunnelly, a retired teacher and principal hopes they take advantage of it, and soon.

“But if I was a teacher,” Nunnelly explained, “I wouldn’t go back until I was vaccinated. It’s very easy to catch things from kids.”

But nevertheless, the veteran educator is thrilled with the decision and opportunity.

“I commend the Board of Education for sending their kids back. They need to be there. But I also commend them for petitioning the Governor and asking him to get all the teachers vaccinated. And it’s going to happen, so I’m thrilled.”

We reached out to the New Hanover County Association of Educators for a statement. The group has long been one of the most outspoken supporters of teachers and their safety. They responded:

“NHCAE is happy that the governor and the health department are prioritizing school staff, considering the decision the NHC BOE made to return students under Plan A with no social distancing. Our concerns are still with staff that will choose not to receive the vaccine and staff that will not be able to receive both shots of the vaccine by the time schools fully reopen. As we are in the middle of the pandemic, schools should remain a safe place for students where everyone can follow the 3Ws. The vaccine is extremely helpful for school staff because the goal is to keep schools open, but it is not the solution when many don’t have access to the vaccine.”